His team's qualification for the knock-out stages of the Champions' League may be secure but Arsène Wenger is unable to relax. Thierry Henry's unsigned contract extension continues to dominate minds at Highbury, with the striker's importance to Arsenal highlighted tonight when he breaks David Seaman's club record for European appearances.
Arsenal's group stage tie with Thun will be Henry's 70th Arsenal fixture in Europe, during which he has procured 39 goals. With Thun having conceded 15 goals in their last four matches, all of them lost, a 40th strike seems likely.
Yet Henry is committed to Arsenal only until June 2007 and the fear grows that Patrick Vieira's success at Juventus will inspire him to follow his friend overseas. Yesterday Wenger could only offer the belief that Arsenal were on the cusp of a revival as he looked for arguments to persuade Henry to stay.
"We will do our utmost to keep him," Wenger said. "We are not thinking of anything else. He is a different case to Patrick [Vieira]. I am not worried about them talking to each other. When the time comes Thierry is strong enough to make up his own mind.
"He knows the years to come are very important for him. A great player gets better every year and Thierry does that. His best years are coming now. I think they will be from 28 to 32."
Wenger hopes tonight will demonstrate the team's potential as he introduces two youngsters to the team: Alexandre Song and Emmanuel Eboue. With four straight wins having secured their place in the post-Christmas knock-out Wenger has been able to leave Jens Lehmann, Kolo Touré and Gilberto Silva in England, resting, together with the injured trio, Alexander Hleb, Gaël Clichy and Ashley Cole, and, as usual, Dennis Bergkamp.
"I want to see one or two players," he said. "I would like to see Song, and Eboue, but all the others will be first-team players. We want to finish top of the group. We could get a bad draw through finishing second."
The match will be played in the new Stade de Suisse, in Berne, because Thun's ground, unsurprisingly for a team playing amateur football less than a decade ago in front of crowds of 100, is not large enough for European ties.
Thun (probable, 4-4-2): Jakupovic; Orman, Milicevic, Goncalves, Deuni; Duruz, Ferreira, Aegerter, Leandro; Lustrinelli, Adriano.
Arsenal (4-4-2): Almunia; Eboue, Senderos, Campbell, Cygan; Pires, Song, Flamini, Ljungberg; Henry, Reyes.
Referee: L Batista (Portugal).Reuse content